Speed Week is a cyclists dream..that is, if his/her dream is to suffer at and above his/her max, with over 100 other riders in battle for the best position at each corner, hoping not to crash, be behind a crash or be affected by a crash, only to remind him/herself that after one race is over, he/she gets/has to do it all over again.
According to the website:
"USA CRITS Speed Week is a series of seven criterium races over nine days across three southern states – starting with the Terrapin Twilight in Athens, Georgia and ending in the North Atlanta suburb of Sandy Springs. Speed Week features the best criterium cyclists in the world racing the downtown streets of seven cities, transforming these areas into international cycling competition arenas. Olympians and world- and nationally-ranked athletes take to the streets to contest the series, as well as to pursue qualifying positions for the USA CRITS Finals. The week of racing will once again offer one of the largest prize purses in North America with $120,000 in prize money for the week."
This is Karel's 4th year participating in Speed Week. Because of his work schedule, it is hard for Karel to take off so many days of work as well as recover and race and finish with the professionals. But, thanks to a supportive boss (who is doing his first IM in 2 weeks!) and a wonderful triathlon/cycling community, Karel is able to squeeze in as many races as he can - all while keeping life balanced.
This year, Karel was able to do Athens, Beaufort, Spartanburg, Anderson and Sandy Springs. 5 races, 5 cities, 2 states, 36 hours driving and over 1700 miles driven. Did I mention that Campy had a blast!?!?
Here's a quick recap of the week:
FINISHED!! 50th place and the title of 2 years in a row "Athens Twilight Finisher". Can't ask for a better feeling to start off Speed Week and the glory of knowing that for 365 days, only one race is on your mind and a finish is the only goal.
I had to miss Beaufort because of work and preparing for my talk at the Trek store on Wed (pics/recp of that will come soon) but Karel said that this 1 hour and 30+ minute crit was harder than he could ever remember. Perhaps having to work all day and then leaving at 1:30 for a 4 hour drive to SC affected his energy but he didn't let that get in the way. Karel refuses to quit or make excuses. The town of Beaufort is beautiful and always brings a nice crowd. The course is very technical and tight. He was suprised he finished 37th and 3 places away from being "in the money" because he said there was at least 5 times during the race that he convinced himself to finish, despite his body nearly quitting over and over again.
After a LONG day of work + my talk on Wed, Karel quickly realized that his body is not recovering like it once did 3-4 years ago. It takes longer for him to recover, despite him feeling like his body is in good shape. Sleep and lots of time with the foam roller, he took it easy on the Lodge group ride on Thurs evening and by Fri, he felt that fire again to push his body (albeit, still tired from the last two crits in the past 6 days). There is only one word to describe Spartanburg - crashes and lots of them.
Luckily, I didn't witness any of the crashes but this dark, fast and challenging course caused so much chaos that they had to stop the race two seperate times because there were more people in the wheel pit for mechanicals and for getting "Free" laps because of being stuck behind the crash, than in the race itself. It was absolutely unbelievable to see so much action on the sidelines...not to mention the rest of the race. But surprisingly, this is Karel's course. Challenging, dodging crashes (yes, he still has the same amount of skin as when he started the race), dark, fast, a huge crowd and lots of aggression from the other riders. Karel has a great finish and was really happy to have finished this race. He said he felt great and that is always something great to say after a tough week of racing.
We made a 1 hour drive to Anderson, SC after the race on Friday evening and stayed at pet-friendly Country Inn and Suites. I enjoyed a "long" run on Sat morning after a restful night of sleep on the rolling hills of SC. My legs were loving the changing terrain but Karel's set for me of 6 x 5 min Z5 w/ 2 min walk recovery really gave me the confident boost I need for my upcoming half in Macon, G on June 2nd. After finishing my "long" run of 11.5 miles (1 hour and 25 minutes), I caught up with my athletes on training peaks and Karel and his teammate Erik watched the Giro (Karel's favorite tour) on the computer.
Around 3:15pm it was time for the start of the Anderson Crit...in the middle of nowhere. An open field with a road and not a cloud or tree in sight for shade. 100% NOT Karel's course and he knew it. The course was so unsafe that there were several crashes on the same slopping corner after a descend, that was not designed for crit racing. Knowing that pro's know how to handle their bikes, saying that this course was not ideal for a race is speaking loudly for how crazy this course was for the riders (not to mention, tired and glycogen depleted riders). Karel didn't finish the race and after playing out scenarios in his head as well as his future with bike racing, he joined me and Campy and we watched the finish of the race. There was a lot of suffering going on and I think even if Karel finished this race, the heat would have completely drained Karel for weeks to come.
After a wonderful night of rest, I woke up and took Campy on a walk. Campy was quick to go back to bed with Karel and after a morning cup of coffee while on the computer in the lobby of the hotel. I went for a fantastic time-based 45 min run after doing several hip warm-up exercises in the hotel gym.
Around 1pm we headed to hot and hilly Sandy Springs for the 4:15pm start. This is a hard 50K course to finish Speed Week but Karel loves it. Despite being at 4:15pm, Karel really loves the challenge of this race. This race was driven by a lot of strong riders and sticking with the theme of Speed Week, there was a crash around 15 laps within the 50 lap race and Karel was stuck behind the crash. Karel rode to the wheel pit which happened to be in a tough place to join back with the field. As the field rode by, Karel was pushed by a mechanic to join the field, only to pedal quickly up a slight incline and then to approach the "big climb" of this 1K course. Karel said after that climb, he had about 1 lap and couldn't manage to get his legs back to get his mid-field position. Karel got dropped and all he could think about was "I felt great". Sadly, that's bike racing. We watched the end of the race as well as seeing the field dwindle as the race went on and around 6pm, it was time to make our drive home from Georgia and to conclude another Speed Week.
Just like you and me, we all love to compete. We all have goals and we have that drive, that fire, that burning itch to succeed. If we didn't, we wouldn't sign up for races and get nervously excited for the big day. Success is different from person to person and that is what makes "sports" so exciting and fun. You see, Karel is no different from me and no different from you. Perhaps from a cycling perspective, Karel and the other riders can suffer a bit more than us, but on race day, there is nothing more fulfilling than knowing that your ONLY limitor is your mind (hence the importance of training smart, recoverying harder and prioritizing both sport nutrition and the daily diet).
You see, in cycling, you are racing to win. Many of these guys know they will not win and maybe will never win, but perhaps a podium is possible. In triathlons and running races, you are out for a great experience but more often than not, a PR or an age group placing. You know you will finish (well, in an Ironman, I believe a Finish is the ultimate goal) and depending on if you pace your race, a successful finish will come if your body and mind are strong and healthy.
In cycling, there are no finisher t-shirts or medals. If you don't place on the podium or bring home some money, you are just a finisher. Sounds impressive to finish a race but when you are a cyclist, you are constantly experiencing a rollercoaster of emotions and it is never just good enough to finish. For whether you are stuck in a crash, behind a crash or don't have the legs to handle the speed that is driven by the front of the pack, you are wondering to yourself "why do I do this to myself and how can I get faster so it doesn't hurt so bad?"
Karel loves bike racing and he gets it from his dad, who at the age of 73yrs old, still rides his bike in Czech Republic. Often, a Skype session with Karel's dad will involve Karel Sr. telling Karel (in Czech) that he just has to have the latest parts and accessories..why? Because all of his 70+ yr old training partners have them!
Sadly, Karel is realizing that his body is not recovering like it did a few years ago. Karel has significantly changed his diet over the past 6 years of us being together and that has allowed him to gain strength and improve overall health. Additionally, strength training has been a big part in his training routine over the past 3-4 years. Karel is very specific with his training (he coaches himself) and analyzes every workout to allow for consistent performance gains.
Although 40+ hours of working a week, in addition to helping me with my Trimarni Coaching athletes, is not stopping him from loving his bike, he feels he is just not able to respond to the training stress, like he did in past years. In my eyes, we must respect the body. Of course we "ride clean" and performance enhancing drugs would never enter his or my body, but Karel is keeping things real. We both know that dumping a bunch of supplements and stimulants into his system is not the practical approach. If anything, the longterm cardiac and liver consequences are not worth a finish at speed week or reaching higher watts during a group ride.
So, perhaps I should rephrase this - he is continuing to improve his fitness on his own level BUT it is hard to keep up with the other guys. Karel has raced several BIG races this year and has finished many of them. I am so incredibly proud of him and finish or no finish, I love knowing that Karel is able to overcome the emotional side of "sport" as well as the physical and mental side. To me, that is what sports are all about. Growing stronger as a human being and being able to achieve things that you never thought were possible. For you only fail, if you give up. He never stops wanting "it" and refuses to stop competing.
So, what's next. Well, Karel has the Crit State Championship in 2 weeks and then he will be supporting me at the Macon Halfman on June 2nd where I will be racing in the Open/Elite division on a challenging hot and hilly course.
What about triathlons???
Will Karel transition to triathlons (as many people have asked me in the recent past)??? Well, that's something that Karel will need to decide. He is driven by competition but surely, triathlons are very different than cycling. I have never asked Karel to be a triathlete nor put it in his head that he should "try" triathlons. Karel has helped me gain tremendous strength as a triathlete and has helped me (and my athletes) cross many finish lines. He certainly knows the aspect of cycling but he also knows how to train smart and of course....what it feels like to get into the red zone and stay in the hurt box.
I've learned a lot from Karel and one (of many) things that I am so fortunante to have learned from himl is that being physically fit is only the foundation in how we can succeed in sport. Determination will drive you to get out the door every morning and to see what your body is capable of achieving. But you have to want it....bad. For only when you are mentally strong, do you really start to reach your ultimate goals and you find yourself creating a more balanced lifestyle to meet both your lifestyle and athletic goals.
Trainins is never only about the miles. Nutrition is never about being skinny. We must always remember that if you want to succeed, you have to train hard, recover harder and of course, keep your mind strong to be able to overcome any and all obstacles that may come into your way and may possible hinder you from seeing what you are truely capable of achieving in life. Oh and don't forget to have fun.
Here's some pics from the week...